(AP)- Mikaela Shiffrin’s chances of extending her three-year reign as overall champion took another hit when the alpine skiing World Cup Finals in Italy were canceled on Friday because of the virus outbreak.
Shiffrin already lost her lead in the standings because of a month-long absence following the death of her father.
The Italian Winter Sports Federation was hoping to host the finals, scheduled for March 18-22 in Cortina d’Ampezzo, without spectators. But during an emergency International Ski Federation (FIS) board meeting on Friday, every nation besides Italy voted to cancel the event, the Italian federation said.
“It’s with great disappointment that I accept this decision,” Italian federation president Flavio Roda said. “Every member of the board made their decision based on limitations that their respective governments have imposed in relation to the virus.”
World Cup rules prevent the finals from being moved to another location.
“This was an extremely difficult decision for us to make, but ultimately welfare and health of the athletes, teams and everyone associated with the World Cup as well as the general public must be our top priority,” FIS president Gian Franco Kasper said. “We must respect this very serious situation. We look forward to recognizing the winning athletes at a later date when we can properly celebrate their accomplishments.”
Shiffrin announced on Thursday she was returning to the circuit in Europe but she has only one set of races left in Åre, Sweden — if she enters — to try to erase her 153-point deficit to Italian rival Federica Brignone.
“It’s an inconclusive way to finish the season,” Brignone said. “What really hurts me will be the loss of the prize celebrations, which represent a special moment to share with the entire team, and the pleasure of hearing your national anthem play.
“I’m really upset. We were looking forward to racing in front of our fans in order to finish this great season in the best manner possible.”
“It’s even more disturbing if I think about how well I’ve been skiing lately, and how every race was an opportunity to post good results. … I’m also upset because it means I finish second in the super-G standings behind Corinne Suter courtesy of that hundredth of a second that cost me the victory in La Thuile last Saturday.”
The cancellation leaves only two weekends of racing left for the men, with Alexis Pinturault leading the overall standings, 26 points ahead of Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, and 107 points ahead of Henrik Kristoffersen.
The title will be decided by speed races in Kvitfjell, Norway, this weekend, and tech races in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, next weekend.
The cancellation of the finals means Beat Feuz of Switzerland clinched the downhill title for a third straight year. He leads Thomas Dressen of Germany by 194 points.
If she races, Shiffrin will be among the favorites in the three races in Åre beginning next Thursday: A parallel slalom, giant slalom and slalom.
The American skier announced in a video posted on Instagram that she was flying to Scandinavia this week.
“I have no promises if I’ll actually be able to race,” Shiffrin said in a six-minute video message that addressed the emotions about her father, Jeff, who died on Feb. 2.
Shiffrin said she trained a little but with difficulty.
Also in contention for the women’s title is Petra Vlhová. She is 189 points behind Brignone, who is attempting to become the first Italian woman to win the large crystal globe.
The races in Cortina were slated to be the first major test of a new men’s course for next year’s world championships in the Italian resort. The resort known as “the Queen of the Dolomites” is also slated to host skiing during the Milan-Cortina Olympics in 2026.
Nearly 200 people have died in Italy, the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe, and nearly 4,000 have tested positive for the virus. Many nations have imposed travel restrictions to Italy.
A total of nine events were scheduled for Cortina: Four men’s races, four women’s races, and a team parallel event.